Labour is one of a business’s biggest expenses but it many cases it also happens to be one of its most valuable assets. Business owners often find themselves trying to strike a unique balance between keeping the labour expense low while keeping the labour asset at its most productive. The latter entails keeping the workforce as motivated and happy as possible.
There is a limit to how much you can increase salaries to keep your employees happy—you have to consider, for example, how much similar job positions are paying in other companies. Since for most companies, monetary incentives are out of the question, they have to consider nonmonetary alternatives. Many businesses are apprehensive of the costs that these perks may also incur so they end up doing nothing.
Using just a few examples I will show that some of these perks, which many (usually small) companies are particularly wary of and consider to be mere luxuries, are not as expensive as they seem to be at first and may end up contributing to the companies’ bottom lines.
Many companies cannot be bothered to provide their employees with so much as tea during breaks. During early morning breaks and lunchtime, employees have to fend for themselves. Someone can argue that one’s lunch is a personal expense which the employee should take care of using their pocket. I will not disagree with that—this is not supposed to be a discussion on morality. However, there are several well-documented benefits to offering your employees free refreshments—some of them are borderline unethical if they are the only reason for your offering this benefit.
We can start with the case of simple tea or coffee pot being made available to employees. Tea and coffee both contain caffeine—a stimulant which should go a long way in reducing the number of drowsy worker faces. In many workplaces, especially office environments, alertness causes an increase in productivity. Hopefully, this slight caffeine boost in output translates to an actual currency which can at least make up for the cost of tea ingredients.
Lunches and early morning breaks usually have to be timed to allow employees enough time to leave company premises on food runs. This reduction in the amount of time which workers spend doing actual work often comes back to haunt employers in the form of overtime payments. In particularly busy companies, these breaks can accumulate and all this wasted productivity will have a significant impact on the company’s bottom line. These losses are sometimes far more significant than the cost of simply providing food to your employees. By providing food on your premises, you can also reduce the length of your workforce’s breakfast and lunch breaks.
Food also happens to be one of the cheapest ways of improving employee job satisfaction. Some employers use late dinners to keep employees in their chairs for longer without paying them any additional overtime. A constant stream of snacks is also one of the easiest ways to stave off employee fatigue and reduce the number of “clock watchers”—a term used to describe those who start counting down the minutes as soon as they arrive for work.
Unlimited paid vacation
This works best in competitive professional work environments—in less competitive ones it may end up bankrupting your business. In the face of stiff professional competition, studies have shown that employees who are free to choose when to take leave days end up requesting less of these than their counterparts who are only entitled to a fixed number. Even better (or slightly worse if you are the employee) this practice devalues the very concept of leave itself and often allows superiors to request subordinates to come back to work whenever they feel it is necessary.
Because you are technically not entitled to your leave, you can be called into work even on public holidays and weekends. What at first appears to be solely an employee benefit can end up going both ways and giving bosses more control over their time. As mentioned before, this system devalues leave days—this can then do away with the practice and systems that allow employees to redeem unused leave days for money.
However, as a disclaimer accompanying a medical advert might say, your experiences might differ (if you choose to implement this).
Without providing a medical aid plan for your employees, you ethically have no right to ask for a doctor’s note if they claim to be sick. Many small business owners are left with no option but to raise their eyebrows in suspicion every time an employee claims to be unwell. Even employees who are no longer interested in keeping their jobs can stretch out the process by constantly claiming poor health (while getting fully paid). There is no other way of proving or disproving your workers’ health claims that will not reflect badly on yourself and your company.
Beyond allaying your suspicions of employee dishonesty, a health plan keeps your employees healthy and even reduces the lengths and frequency of sick days. This is particularly important for formal businesses which are legally obligated to keep paying employees who are on medical leave. These businesses are heavily invested in their employees’ health due to a set of protective labour laws which were drafted in the wake of independence and the worker exploitation practices before it.
This is not about buying your employees cars but reducing their reliance on public transportation. Public transportation is not a bad thing on its own but now and then it becomes expensive or unreliable enough to become a distraction to commuting workers. In Zimbabwe transport expenses most likely bite off a fair chunk out of the salaries which you pay your employees. Some of the benefits include the ability of your company to even work outside conventional hours. You can double production through operating your business more than just 8-10 hours a day.
Other benefits include eliminating the loss of focus that creeps in on your workers as they start thinking about the problematic trek back home—nobody enjoys an hour-long bus queue which usually culminates in standing all the way home.
At the end of it all, employee perks must have the intended effect and must never come at the expense of productivity. This means that whatever form these take, their purpose must not be to distract employees from the fact that they are at work.